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LK_1 IEEE CEDA Distinguished Lecturer Lunchtime Keynote: Restoring the magic in design


Jan M. Rabaey,  University of California at Berkeley, United States and imec, Belgium

Jan M. Rabaey,  University of California at Berkeley, United States and imec, BE

The emergence of “Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI)” in the late 1970’s created a groundswell of feverish innovation. Inspired by the vision laid out in Mead and Conway’s “Introduction to VLSI Design”, numerous researchers embarked on venues to unleash the capabilities offered by integrated circuit technology. The introduction of design rules, separating manufacturing from design, combined with an intermediate abstraction language (CIF) and a silicon brokerage service (MOSIS) gave access to silicon for a large population of eager designers. The magic however expanded way beyond these circuit enthusiasts and attracted a whole generation of software experts to help automate the design process, given rise to concepts such as layout generation, logic synthesis, and silicon compilation. It is hard to overestimate the impact that this revolution has had on information technology and society at large.

About fifty years later, Integrated Circuits are everywhere. Yet, the process of creating these amazing devices feels somewhat tired. CMOS scaling, the engine behind the evolution in complexity over all these decades, is slowing down and will most likely peter out in about a decade. So has innovation in design tools and methodologies. As a consequence, the lure of IC design and design tool development has faded, causing a talent shortage worldwide. Yet, at the same time, this moment of transition offers a world of opportunity and excitement. Novel technologies and devices, integrated in three-dimensional artifacts are emerging and are opening the door for truly transformational applications such as brain-machine interfaces and swarms of nanobots. Machine learning, artificial intelligence, optical and quantum computing present novel models of computation surpassing the instruction-set processor paradigm. With this comes a need again to re-invent the design process, explicitly exploiting the capabilities offered by this next generation of computing systems. In summary, it is time to put the magic in design again.


Jan is a Professor in the Graduate School in the EECS Department the University of California at Berkeley, after being the holder of the Donald O. Pederson Distinguished Professorship at the same institute for over 30 years. He is a founding director of the Berkeley Wireless Research Center (BWRC) and the Berkeley Ubiquitous SwarmLab, and has served as the Electrical Engineering Division Chair at Berkeley twice. In 2019, he also became the CTO of the System-Technology Co-Optimization (STCO) Division of IMEC, Belgium.

Prof. Rabaey has made high-impact contributions to a number of fields, including low power integrated circuits, advanced wireless systems, mobile devices, sensor networks, and ubiquitous computing. Some of the systems he helped envision include the infoPad (a forerunner of the iPad), PicoNets and PicoRadios (IoT avant-la-lettre), the Swarm (IoT on steroids), Brain-Machine interfaces and the Human Intranet. His current interests include the conception of the next-generation distributed systems, as well as the exploration of the interaction between the cyber and the biological worlds.

He is the primary author of the influential “Digital Integrated Circuits: A Design Perspective” textbook that has served to educate hundreds of thousands of students all over the world. He is the recipient of numerous awards among which the 2009 EDAA lifetime achievement award, is a Life Fellow of the IEEE, and has been involved in a broad variety of start-up ventures. (